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We could have chosen a worse time to fly to Halifax. We could have come on December 13, when hundred-mile-an-hour winds were wreaking havoc in Nova Scotia, knocking down towering fir trees and ripping shingles off our carriage house. Instead, we picked the worst time to leave Durham, North Carolina. Soft, wet snow began falling around midnight, followed by freezing rain on the morning we were due to depart. Not exactly conducive to getting to the airport.

We considered booking a hotel in the vicinity, but finally decided to take our chances. I did revise our departure time, insisting that our cab driver show up at 6:15 AM for a 9:15 flight. The appointed time came and went, followed by a flurry of phone calls. It turned out our driver wasn’t lost, but fender benders had turned the route into an obstacle course. Since we were leaving Durham after almost a full year in residence, we were not traveling light. The cabbie came from Africa originally, so we got in with some trepidation, but he immediately informed us that he had lived in Michigan. Not to worry.

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One item in our carry-on may have been unique to our luggage– two hats in an elegant German hat box. One of our serendipitous discoveries in Durham was a first-rate hat store, owned by a classy Cuban. Southerners like hats, and they are willing to invest in them. On the afternoon we wandered into the store, my wife, who is fairly abstemious with her personal wardrobe, emerged with TWO hats, one for spring, one for winter. The purchase of two German hats made the owner’s day, so he threw in the fancy box.

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When we first took an informal inventory at the Stewart House twenty-three years ago, we were delighted to discover a genuine beaver hat, complete with leather box. Peeling stickers indicated that the hat (and its owner) did the grand tour of Europe. It may have belonged to Florence Nunn’s father. Florence was named after his favorite city in Italy. She married Charles Stewart, the great great grandson of Robert Laird, the man who had the “Stewart” house built, circa 1779. They traveled by sea in those days, but it was nice to return a hat box to the old homestead, even if it was in the overhead compartment of an airship.

To say that the Raleigh-Durham airport is a little light on de-icing equipment is something of an understatement. They have exactly two trucks to service every single flight, and it is a busy airport. My flight to Philadelphia was number seven in line for de-icing, so we took off three hours late. Fortunately, the flight to Halifax was delayed an hour and a half.  All’s well that ends well.  And arriving here on the same day was a good ending.

It was a quiet and green Christmas this year, with only one other family member present for the holiday. And our daughter, Stephanie, got on a plane for Vancouver on Christmas morning. Happy New Year. May 2011 bring you all serenity, peace and good fortune. We are living in interesting times, so those may be in short supply. Cheers from Grand Pre, Nova Scotia.


I have taken a leave of absence from life in Melbourne, Australia and from the blog.  It seems like a good time to return to the writing, even though I won’t be back “down under” for half a year.  It hardly seems worth changing the title to Up and Over to point my readers toward North America.  As I said in a previous post, my wife is on sabbatical for a semester and we are currently in Durham, North Carolina, a state that is definitely south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Our transition here was a brief visit with my son and his family in Portland, Oregon, and a two week holiday at the old place in Nova Scotia.  Grand Pre is a lovely place to spend Christmas as long as the weather doesn’t get too Canadian. Our two hundred year-old house does not have central heating and a howling North wind whips right in.

We were greeted by a cold snap that had us quite concerned for friends from Washington DC who planned to spend Christmas with us, but it warmed up to more seasonal temps by the time they arrived.  Right after they left it got very cold again.  Nova Scotia has always seemed gentler with tourists than long-term residents that way.

I have spent a number of years in hot countries, and the celebration of Christmas in such places always seemed odd.  In Hong Kong, I never got used to the neon-lit, red cloaked Buddhas driving Asian looking reindeer on skyscrapers high overhead.  The European traditions of Christmas seem singularly inappropriate when the weather is 40 degrees centigrade and everyone is heading for the beach or the barbecue.

In Canada, men dream of snow blowers at this time of year. A Muskoka man named Kai Gundt got fed up with his wimpy commercial snow blower and decided to build one with a V-8 engine.  His home-built job cleared his driveway in five minutes, throwing snow over a five story building.  The latest model has heated handlebars and a cup holder.  “I know it goes against the green initiative.  But it really works.  It takes the snow and blows it right back where it came from.”

Fortunately, we have a good stock of dry firewood and fireplaces that were built when people knew how to do it properly.  We laid in groceries and got a lovely tree that just fit into the parlour.  Our daughter did a beautiful job bringing it to life.  On Christmas Eve we went to the local church (which is about the same vintage as our house) and sat in straight back pews for the music and the sermon. It was wonderful to come home and snuggle up under the down comforter.

Today, the weather here in Durham went up to springtime temperatures.  People are out running around in T shirts.  Christmas was only three weeks ago, but our connection with the seasons has been tenuous of late;  it seems like it could have been a century ago.  This is what our village looked like then.


The day before I left Turin for Christmas in Canada, I had two scares.  In a misguided attempt to keep from bumping my head, I caught my foot under our platform bed and did a swan dive on the floor of our flat.  I cut one eyebrow open and bruised my ribs.  The second event was far more serious.  It was late in the afternoon in the center of the city, and I was getting ready to cross a major street after descending from a tram.  Like most people in the shopping mode, I was preoccupied.  And I was plugged in, listening to a book on my MP3 player.

The  young woman beside me stepped off the sidewalk.  From the corner of my eye I could see a car coming.  My brain screamed but no words came out.  By the time I reacted she had walked into the side of the moving car.  I caught her on the rebound.  For what seemed like a long time, I held her while she shook. She was bruised and in shock, but nothing appeared to be broken.

The driver stopped and came back.  An ambulance was called.  Her partner showed up.  If she had stepped out ten seconds earlier I believe she would have been killed.  It was that close.  I will never, ever tune out the city again.  Life is too precious to be preoccupied at a crucial moment.

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The teaching position in Turin offered us a choice that we would never have considered if we had been in Melbourne in December.  We could spend the holiday in the Alps, which certainly had its attractions, or we could return to the Stewart House in Grand Pre, Nova Scotia.

The stars seemed aligned for a small family reunion in Canada this year.  My sister could come from Montana, a son from China.  Our daughter was already in the province attending school and her new husband planned to fly in from Hawaii. They had been married there and we had not had a chance to meet him.  He is in the Marines Corps and we are very pleased to have him in the family.

There is plenty of room in the old house.  The main trick is staying warm this time of year.  It has been at least sixty years since anyone has lived in the building in winter.  There is no furnace, no central heating and no wood stove.  There are electric baseboard heaters and five fireplaces.

During the cold snap leading up to Christmas Eve, we struggled to keep two of the fireplaces stuffed with wood (and the family with food) from morning until night.  In many parts of the province thousands of people lost power.  I was glad it didn’t happen here.  I was very grateful for electricity, grocery stores, merino wool, the CBC, and indoor plumbing.

The cold snap was followed by a warm wind on Christmas day that quickly melted almost all the snow.  The cold has returned, and I am now staring at a field of frozen, green grass with patches of snow.  A blizzard is predicted for tonight, New Year’s Eve.  No one who lives in the Maritimes expects predictable weather any time of year, so this is not surprising.

I’ll be back in Turin in a week, so the Italian lessons are not over yet.  Who knows, maybe I’ll get up the nerve to drive.  The Alps are calling.  Happy New Year!  Stay safe and stay tuned.


Despite my antipathy to the holiday season, my wife and I were actually invited to a picnic on Christmas Day. I ended up going on my own, since she was battling bronchitis and there wasn’t much I could do except commiserate. Reassured by her promise that she wasn’t going to expire in my absence, I plugged the address into the GPS and headed out to East Brighton. If you must drive in Melbourne, Christmas is a good day.

The invitation had been extended by a fellow cyclist from the Great Victorian Bike Ride. He and his family and some friends get together for a long Christmas lunch. When the weather is nice (as it was Christmas Day), they meet at his friend Tom’s place, which gives on to a lovely park. Other families had the same idea, but the park was large enough for all.

It was a potluck picnic, so I threw together a baked dish and stuffed a plate and cutlery into a bag.  There were introductions and I was made to feel welcome. There was very good food, conversation and even musical entertainment. One of the neighbors (an architect by trade) elected to abandon his own group and serenade Geoff’s family and friends with his guitar, practiced performance skills and an inexhaustible repertoire of songs.

At one point, I was conscripted into a board game called “Make Me Laugh.” There was a period in my life when I was actually interested in board games, but I left that behind many years ago. Even though I couldn’t really make heads or tails of the rules, I joined in with enthusiasm. It was Christmas, after all, and it was fun.

A group nearby (probably the group our guitarist had abandoned) was playing cricket. When I was twelve years old and living in India, a Sikh friend my age tried to explain the rules. At the end of a monologue that went on almost as long as his explanation of the pantheon of Hindu Gods, I was utterly baffled. Geoff told he had a tea towel that explained the rules.  It was tongue in cheek, but everything on it was apparently quite correct.

You have two sides, one out in the field and one in. Each man that’s in the side that’s in goes out, and when he’s out he comes in and the next man goes in until he’s out. When they are all out, the side that’s out comes in and the side that’s been in goes out and tries to get those coming in, out. Sometimes you get men still in and not out.

When a man goes out to go in, the men who are out try to get him out, and when he is out he goes in and the next man in goes out and goes in. There are two men called umpires who stay out all the time and they decide when the men who are in are out. When both sides have been in and all the men have been out, and both sides have been out twice after all the men have been in, including those who are not out, that is the end of the game.

Yesterday was the first match of the Boxing Day Test, bringing together the teams of India and Australia and 68,465 fans.  110 people were evicted for hoonish (boorish) behavior, such as throwing plastic cups or baring all and running out on the field. Despite the extensive coverage in the paper, I have no idea who is ahead. This will continue for five days. By that time, everyone will be thoroughly inebriated.

In the end, anyone who can remember the score (or the rules) or his name, will be deemed the winner.

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